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Another restless summer awaits Leafs with changes in the air



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They made a series of it, but defeat tastes just as bitter. 

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And there will still be an appetite for change around Scotiabank Arena next year. 

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Not just because a $350 million renovation to the rink is coming, but a look at shuffling behind the bench, if not higher in the executive suite and part and parcel with the usual with some nameplates in dressing room. 

For now, everyone is still numb from an eighth straight early exit from NHL post-season play. Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 in Boston means other than defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, the Maple Leafs have not survived the first round since 2013. Four of those defeats wre engineered by bitter rival Boston. 

Club president Brendan Shanahan hoped a cadre of first round picks led by Auston Matthews – “the Core Four” – would pave the way for playoff prowess, yet the project is now on its third general manager, perhaps about to cash out its third coach in Sheldon Keefe. 

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Now it’s up to new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Keith Pelley when he makes his first summer assessments.  

It’s not unrealistic the Leafs could’ve and should’ve won at least one Stanley Cup during the “Shanaplan” instead of watching old rivals and new teams keep raising it. Their record NHL drought is now extended another season to 58. 

First-year general manager Brad Treliving inherited a lot of the Core’s cap crunching contracts from Kyle Dubas  – Mitch Marner is now up to bat – and made improvements where he could. He would also be subject to new bosses.   

While no Leafs coach ever put together three straight 100-point teams and no NHL coach among the top 80 in wins has a better regular season percentage than Keefe’s .607, it has just failed to translate at playoffs. Long-term problems such as poor game starts, late goals against and special teams’ woes manifested themselves, even at the start of these playoffs before injuries forced Keefe to have them buy into a defensive game plan and better finish. 

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Keefe was first without 98-point winger William Nylander for four games and Matthews missing two. The defence was definitely tougher this year, topped up with trade deadline acquisitions Joel Edmundson and Ilya Lyubushkin, but needs more depth with TJ Brodie and 40-year-old Mark Giordano no longer regulars. 

Jettisoning Keefe now would be a short-term sacrifice to satisfy fans, but the problems run deeper.  


While Keefe awaits his fate, power play architect/assistant coach Guy Boucher certainly had his critics. 

Misfiring late in the regular season, the first struggles will be a talking point all summer. At times Boucher had the potent forwards in harmony and helping Toronto to average close to four goals overall a game.   

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While its one chance in Saturday’s second period moved more crisply with Matthews back, it completed this series 1-for-21. According to NHLStats that’s the fourth worst showing in a seven-game opening-round series the past 20 years. 

Pittsburgh was 1-for-35 in the 2011 opening round, Washington 1-for-33 the year before with Boston getting no goals through seven in 2011, yet being the only club of the three to get through. 


The Bruins had a miserable week hearing about a potential repeat of their 3-1 collapse against Florida last year as an unprecedented repeat loomed. 

But they sequestered in a local hotel Friday and treated Saturday like a road game. That still didn’t prevent a couple of close calls on killer goals as Toronto battled them into OT, before a set play on David Pastrnak’s goal that worked perfectly. 

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“(The Leafs) are a hell of a team, we knew they were going to push, played a hell of a series,” captain Brad Marchand told Sportsnet. “But it was good for us to stay in the moment.” 


For Jeremy Swayman, it was Game 7 relief after losing his last two in elimination, including last year’s loss to Florida late after Linus Ullmark faded.  

Swayman’s motivation to beat the Leafs goes back a lot further than this series, to the 2017 draft when the University of Maine goaltending star thought the Leafs were going to take him at 110th, based on many pre-draft interviews. Instead, Toronto went with the equally promising Ian Scott, who’d had played 50 junior games facing a lot more rubber for Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League. 

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Swayman has relayed to media the story that he looked at his father in shock as both were following the draft via internet in Anchorage, Alaska. Boston took him with the next pick. 

While the outcome could’ve turned out differently for the Leafs had a series of injuries not forced Scott into early retirement before he had a chance to develop with Joseph Woll (picked a year earlier), Swayman was a savvy selection. He and Ullmark won last year’s Jennings Trophy and he was chosen to start and finish this series, convincing coach Jim Montgomery to disrupt the rotation with Ullmark. 


It was hard to sort through the forest of statistics about Game 7’s, but in the end Toronto lost all four in Boston by a 19-10 combined score. The last time the Leafs won a series versus Boston – in 1959 so if born that year you’re a senior citizen – was a Game 7 victory. The four consecutive meetings in deciding matches is a league first between the same teams. 

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When Pastrnak scored he became the third player to beat the Leafs in OT of a Game 7 with Leo Reise (1950) and one-time teammate Patrice Bergeron.   


The run is over for “Mr. Game 7.” Edmundson had not lost in five previous opportunities with various teams, including wins against Toronto (as a Montreal Canadien in 2021) and Boston (in the 2019 Cup final while with the St. Louis Blues) … The Leafs also bucked the trend that 76% of teams who score first in a Game 7 go on to win it … Nylander’s 54th playoff appearance on Saturday put he, Matthews, Marner and Morgan Rielly among the top 40 games played in franchise history. Marner and Rielly have tied Eddie Shack at 57 …  Matthews was revealed as one of three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy on Saturday, his third nomination. With 69 goals, he certainly fills the “high standard of play” aspect of the award, but there’s is an intriguing candidate in Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin. No defenceman since Brian Campbell in 2012 has won it in a full 82 game schedule and Slavin, the 2021 winner in a shortened year, took just four minors, while averaging almost 21 minutes a night. Elias Pettersson of Vancouver is the other finalist … Boston winger James van Riemsdyk, the Leaf who led Toronto in points in the 2013 seven-game loss to Boston, turned 35 on Saturday. 

X: @sunhornby 


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